If you’ve ever spent much time in art museums, you know that much of the greatest Christian art of the past was anything but “family friendly.” Caravaggio’s “David with the Head of Goliath,” for instance. Powerful painting, raw, and violent.
It’s the gripping moment David holds up the head of Goliath—his severed neck still dripping blood. The most amazing thing about the piece is that it’s a self-portrait, and yet Caravaggio painted himself not as the hero, but as Goliath, as if he understood his own dark and sinful heart.
I’m not sure most Christian stores today would proudly display a painting like that, or if many churches would have the courage to hang it in the sanctuary. But the history of Christian art often features exposed breasts, fingers being jammed into Jesus’ wounds or a naked Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—images that confront the viewer and force him or her to reconsider their assumptions.
The question is: at what point did Christian artists and other church leaders give up their role as truth tellers and provocateurs? Certainly there is a role for comfort when it comes to art or our message from pulpits, but we can never forget the artists job is to force us to make a decision. To shake up our pre-conceptions, and show us a new perspective on the world.
When did Christian leaders stop challenging us and start soothing us?
I believe we lost much of the power of our Christian message when it was determined that everything needed to be “family friendly.” I imagine the marketplace had a role to play, and certainly the more conservative church culture here in America. And don’t get me wrong—we should be protecting children and doing whatever we can to make them safe. However, when it comes to dealing with adults—especially mature believers—we shouldn’t let that keep us from speaking the truth.
But today, Christian record labels refuse provocative language, Christian publishers aren’t interested in much that’s not positive and we want Christian movies to have happy endings. And that thinking has invaded the decisions of most church leaders as well. As a result, most leaders struggle to confront wrong behavior, poor performance or outright sin.
Jesus loved and healed people, but His message also people. It made them choose. They were forced to make a decision.
Today, the stakes are too high for us to be hypocritical. We can’t admire the great Christian leaders and artists of the past, and yet criticize those today who are committed to reveal the truth. The question is: How do we change?
We should start with giving Christian leaders (and artists) enough space to challenge our thinking—sometimes even scare us. It’s not about being controversial just for the sake of controversy, it’s about telling the truth and being bold for the sake of the gospel.
The Greek translation of the word “bold” is “courageous, daring or dauntless.” It refers to acting or speaking without fear of the consequences.
And to creatives in the church, I say when your idea requires it, let’s peel away the veneers of what people expect, in order to expose them to the raw beauty of what they don’t expect. To reveal the truth of our message is the greatest service we can offer. It’s time to rise up.
For leaders everywhere: Stop being afraid. Say the things that need to be said. Make people think.
After all, eternity hangs in the balance.
This article was extracted from Issue 2 (Summer 2020) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.
If you have a powerful message or story that could influence the world, media producer, consultant, and author Phil Cooke will teach you what you need to know about creativity, communication, Hollywood, media, culture, and the faith to make it happen.
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